Vyacheslav Glazkov: nearly there…
Ukrainian heavyweight contender Vyacheslav Glazkov has been a “nearly man” in amateur boxing, nearly winning the 2008 Olympic gold medal, collecting the bronze after an injury and nearly winning the 2007 World Amateur Championships, losing to Italian stalwart Roberto Cammarelle in the final. He strives to change that perception in the pro ranks, eager to fight for the most valued title in boxing by beating back the challenge of Steve “USS” Cunningham on HBO, Saturday night (9:45 p.m. ET/PT). Glazkov is rated in most heavyweight top 10 lists despite his last year resembling a rollercoaster ride, looking fantastic defeating former champion Tomasz Adamek but then struggling to escape with a majority decision against gatekeeper Derric Rossy. It leaves fans and experts confused, trying to figure out which Glazkov will show up on fight night. This fight will determine Glazkov’s future in terms of fulfilling his potential or continuing to be just another heavyweight nearly man.
The winner of the Glazkov-Cunningham duel has been penciled in to face the winner of the WBA/WBO/IBF heavyweight championship fight between Wladimir Klitschko and Bryant Jennings (although boxing politics and financial squabbles are rational bets to scuttle that proposed match-up since WBC titlist Deontay Wilder figures to be a larger payday for either Klitschko or Jennings). One reason Glazkov and Cunningham agreed to fight each other is to increase their marketability as a challenger to Klitschko with American audiences, hoping to raise their hands and become viable options to Wilder, should he price himself out of a Klitschko fight. While not looking past Cunningham, Glazkov wants to fight the Klitschko he has already faced in the ring as a sparring partner, “I would love to go and face Klitschko. I got good experience sparring with Klitschko. If I am going to fight him next, that experience will give me insight to fighting him.”
A key issue Glazkov dealt with entering the Cunningham bout is incorporating his third trainer in four years, stepping away from highly respected John David Jackson (before Jackson, it was Don Turner) because Jackson would devote much of his time to training stablemate and unified light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev, who headlines this card. “John David Jackson was so busy with Sergey. I decided I needed to go with a new trainer. Instead of going with somebody completely new, I chose someone from the past that I used to work with. We are clicking together good,” said Glazkov, who was referring to Victor Petrochenko (who has worked with retired former middleweight champion Dmitry Pirog and now trains boxers in Oxnard, CA), with whom he turned pro in 2009 and always maintained a working relationship when he trained in Europe.
There have been unavoidable distractions outside of the ring as well for Glazkov, with the Ukrainian national fearing for the health of friends and family because of the continuing armed clashes between Russia and his home country. Glazkov enters the ring with a heavy heart because his grandmother was killed in the early skirmishes of that conflict. He quickly moved to ensure the rest of his family escaped a similar fate, moving his wife and daughter to the United States, where he trains in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “I lost my grandmother; she was killed in the street during one of the bombings. Of course it was always distracting to talk with my family back there,” said Glazkov, however adding, “Right now, I am concentrated 100 percent and I am here. I am training. I am ready.”
The good and the bad seem to constantly mix with Glazkov. In scoring his finest victory, a comprehensive win over Adamek one year ago, Glazkov sustained a hand injury that hampered him almost five months later in a disappointing outing against Rossy, “It was the first time in my career facing a fighter like Adamek. It was a very big experience for me to learn something in that bout. After that, I went through the training process that was very disruptive on my personal life with the war in Ukraine but I don’t want to talk in detail about that.” Like many athletes, Glazkov says he finds solace with sporting endeavors that force him to concentrate single-mindedly on a goal.
The ring has been Glazkov’s second home since age nine, maturing into an excellent amateur, winning silver at the World Championships and collecting a bronze at the 2008 Olympics. He displays an all-around skill set reminiscent of Alexander Povetkin but with slightly better lateral movement and a more consistent punch output with less time between combinations. Speed and timing remain his best assets and, with experience, Glazkov has learned to put himself in positions to exploit those fast hands. Has stopped 12 of 19 opponents, logging 113 rounds on his way to a No. 7 ranking in The Ring magazine’s ratings. At age 30, the time to strike is now, entering his mental prime while still close to his physical peak.
At 6-foot-3, entering the ring at around 225 pounds consistently with only a 76-inch reach, Glazkov is a smallish heavyweight in today’s terms, which would be an obvious problem, were he to face undisputed heavyweight king Klitschko. The size question was put to Glazkov during his most recent press conference, which he answered without hesitation. “If you are smart in the ring, you can overcome a size disadvantage.” Then quickly returning to the task at hand, “I can’t run in front of the wagon. I am a fighter. I am a boxer. My career is in the hands of my manager and my promoter. I know I have to face Cunningham on March 14 and this is my priority right now.”
When Glazkov speaks, he does in even tones with little hint of ego or malice, a trait manager Egis Klimas does not always appreciate. “He is too nice of a guy in the ring,” Klimas said. “He is a very nice guy outside but then when he comes into the ring, he keeps that. You have to be aggressive. You have to have a sportsman’s anger.” Klimas believes Glazkov needs a role model as much as a trainer. “He never had a good teacher. He always had trainers. He was at one time with Don Turner, which I think is one of the best trainers but [Glazkov is] always in Ukraine. He comes here and Don can’t change him in the two weeks; it’s impossible. So then, we went to John David Jackson but now John David Jackson is away with Sergey preparing for [Jean] Pascal.”
Glazkov reinforces his good guy status talking about Steve Cunningham, “I can’t predict what is going to happen. I think Steve Cunningham is going to be 100 percent ready. This is boxing and I don’t like to predict things. Right now, it is 100 percent concentration on Steve Cunningham. I don’t know what is going to happen after this fight. I don’t care who I face next.” Cunningham was also complimentary, especially when referencing Glazkov’s biggest win since he saw the Tomasz Adamek fight from ringside. “I thought he did a damn good job. He did very well. I was the color commentator on that fight. I stated it was like the old lion getting beat by the young lion. It was a very entertaining fight. [Glazkov] showed heart. He dug deep.”
No matter which boxer walks out the ring with a victory, he will be a considerable underdog if a fight with Wladimir Klitschko materializes. Glazkov has the pedigree and boxing acumen to mount a reasonable challenge but, as his manager pointed out, Glazkov needs to display a tenacious side to make a worldwide audience believe he has a chance to overcome Klitschko’s advantages in size and experience. If not, Glazkov will become another victim in a long line of Klitschko challengers who will be remembered – or more to the point forgotten – like the infamous “Bum of the Month Club” Joe Louis defeated from 1939 to 1941.
All nearly men, a fate Glazkov battles against with every professional victory.